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Competitive Cheer is the CIF's newest sport

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Serena Freitas, left, and Erika Lethcoe jump in a tumbling routine during practice for the new St. Joseph stunt cheer team. Competitive cheer — stunt and traditional — is the newest high school girls sport. The inaugural CIF Southern Section competitive cheer season kicks off Feb. 24.

Len Wood, Staff

Who’s going to cheer for the cheer teams?

Fans regularly see cheer squads on the sidelines at local high school football and basketball games.

But starting in the spring season, several of those cheer squads will become the competitors.

The California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section (CIF-SS) has added two kinds of competitive cheer to its roster of official high school sports — Competitive Sport Cheer (CSC), which is also called stunt cheer, and Traditional Competitive Cheer (TCC)

Cheer was voted into the varsity lineup last year and after a year of laying the groundwork, the first CIF-SS stunt cheer season will kick off next month.

What’s the difference?

“In Traditional Competitive Cheer (TCC) competitions, the teams perform 2 1/2-minute routines that are done to music,” said Rob Wigod, the CIF-SS Commissioner who is also the section’s cheer administrator, during a recent telephone interview. “These competitions have multiple schools competing at the same event. Each team creates its own unique routine. They’ll be awarded points by a panel of judges and each competition will have first-, second- and third-place finishers.”

Traditional competitions can also be contested at advanced, intermediate and novice levels.

Some of the advanced teams will include some of the most difficult elements such as pyramids and throws although they are not required.

“Then stunt cheer is a one-on-one competition between two schools just like a dual meet,” said Wigod. “Stunt matches are broken into a four-quarter format. Each team must perform specific elements in each quarter — both teams are performing the exact same elements each quarter — and they will be repeated in every match so they’ll do the same elements, quarter-by-quarter, all season.”

St. Joseph's head cheer coach, Patsy Shaffer, said the first quarter of these competitions will feature partner stunting. There will be three bases — two on the side and one in the back — with a flyer.

"The girls will hold the flyer’s feet the entire time so she won’t be doing any flying,” Shaffer said. "The team that wins the coin toss chooses the first routine and then the team that has the higher score in each routine gets to choose the next routine from the set list we’ve all been given."

The teams will be able to do a maximum of four stunts in each quarter with one point awarded to the winner of each stunt, Shaffer added.

“The second quarter features tumbling and jumps with seven girls on the mats. Then we’ll have a halftime followed by the third quarter featuring pyramids with 12 girls on the floor at the same time," she said. "And the fourth quarter is a combination of all three — first we’ll go with partners, then tumbling and finally pyramids.”

The stunt teams were given the different elements last month so teams will have time to practice before the spring season begins on Feb. 24.

Two judges award points for each routine in every quarter and the team with the highest four-quarter total wins the match.

There is also a third kind of cheer team — the sideline cheer teams that you see at local high school games. The new competitive cheer competitions don’t affect sideline cheer, although sideline teams can transition over to compete at TCC events.

“Sideline cheer is what you see at football and basketball games,” said Shaffer. “They’ll continue on as always with football in the fall and basketball in the winter. The competitive cheer teams will compete as spring sports.

“And while sideline cheer teams can have both girls and boys, CSC and TCC are girls only — they’re a new girls sport.”

Seven local high schools are among the 70 Southern Section schools which have signed up to compete in the first stunt season — St. Joseph, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Nipomo, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.

Since these schools come from both the PAC 8 and Los Padres leagues, the schools will combine into one league. Its name — subject to change — is currently the Central Coast 7.

And while schools can field both stunt and traditional teams, Paso Robles is the only local school with plans to compete both ways. The Bearcats will be among the 117 Southern Section schools that will fill out the initial traditional ranks.

This first season, the CIF-SS won’t hold playoffs. Those will begin in the 2018-19 school year.

“Since the Southern Section isn’t holding playoffs this year, we’ll go north and compete against Northern California schools in their playoffs,” said Shaffer.

But none of the local schools will be in the Southern Section for the 2019 playoffs.

They’re all moving over to the Central section at the end of the current school year.

Since the Central Section is already involved in competitive cheer, the Central Coast squads will be eligible for the Central Section playoffs next year.

“Just like the other high school sports, these girls have to be athletes,” Shaffer said. “This is different from sideline cheer — traditional and stunt are both much more athletic. We have 14 girls on our stunt team. Seven come from sideline cheer and the other seven come from other sports.”

And just like all the other high school sports, college scholarships are already on the minds of the local competitors.

“Colleges are now offering scholarships to the girls,’ said Shaffer. “We have five seniors who are already looking at their college options.”

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